Briefing Paper: The Impact of Maternal Imprisonment upon a Child's Wellbeing and Their Relationship with Their Mother: Findings from 'Who Cares? Analysing the Place of Children in Maternal Sentencing Decisions in England and Wales', Minson, S (2017), University of Oxford
8 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2017
Date Written: November 8, 2017
It is my contention that all the harms suffered by a child whose parent is being punished through imprisonment have their origin in prison culture and stigmatisation relating to the parent’s imprisonment, and consequently these harms are different to those suffered due to parent and child separation experienced for any other reason, for example marital breakdown or bereavement. Drawing on Comfort’s work I suggest that the harms raise particular concerns and have ‘corrosive’ damaging impacts on children because their origin is in punishment within the criminal justice system: the criminal justice system is distinct… in that it is charged with exacting control and distributing punishment, and hence a spillover effect is inherently more corrosive to bystanders than that of an institutional process concerned with providing a social good, such as medical treatment or education.
I offer the suggestion that harms which children of imprisoned mothers experience come from two different social acts and attach to children in two specific ways. Children experience the first group of harms because the prison’s reach extends into their lives through ‘secondary prisonisation’ and they attach to the children through the prison’s regulation of their relationship with their parent and the demands which the physical separation and limited contact place upon them. The second group of harms is attributable to the stigmatisation of children and their carers by society due to the mother’s imprisonment. Drawing on the work of a number of theorists I argue that in the same way that a prisoner is stigmatised and socially isolated, a label attaches by way of courtesy stigma to the children of prisoners and to those who care for them during the parents’ imprisonment. Such stigmatisation leads not only to isolation, but also to discrimination against that group of children.
This briefing paper focuses on the way in which these harms affect children's wellbeing and their relationships with their mothers.
Keywords: Maternal Imprisonment, Children of Imprisoned Mothers, Children of Prisoners, Children's Wellbeing, Secondary Prisonization, Secondary Stigmatization
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation